I wonder how many great camp directors have left the camp world because they didn’t feel like constantly answering that question. “What do you do the rest of the year?” Or how many potential great camp directors go become teachers, nurses, or lawyers because they don’t think camp is valued in their community.
What is the Hidden Curriculum?
The term ‘Hidden Curriculum’ refers to all of the unspoken expectations in a specific place or for a group of people. Humans are complicated behavioral beings, and we use our behavior to communicate with and evaluate each other. We somehow know that we can behave differently in different places, such as a library or a party or a church. We know without being taught that we can make loud jokes and give big bear hugs at a party, but if we try that at a library we get shushed or frowned at. We can often tell who we will be friends with – just by watching them.
Why does this matter? Well, hidden curriculum can make people feel really uncomfortable if it is unfamiliar and they don’t know how to behave. If people are using a different set of unspoken rules than we are, it is all too easy to misjudge them. Many aspects of the hidden curriculum are sourced in demographic identity like class and race, other aspects can be age-based or location-based.
When we interact in spaces where we are a different race, class, or age from the majority of the other people, we usually feel more uncomfortable, because we aren’t quite sure what behavior will be acceptable. We might not know how exactly how to connect because people are behaving in ways that are surprising to us. Most people instinctually trust other people who behave in predictable ways, but this can get in our way when we try to build trust with people who are demographically different from us, or who grew up learning a different code for how to behave.
Let’s look at some examples of Hidden Curriculum.
If you grew up in a city like New York and you walk down the sidewalk, you know that most people will not make eye contact or greet one another. However, if you grew up in a suburban town in the Midwest, you know that most people smile and say hello, even if they don’t know each other at all. If you go to New York on a trip, nobody tells you when you arrive at the airport, that you should walk fast, and greet nobody except your actual friends. It’s hidden curriculum.
If you go to an ICP (Insane Clown Posse) or a Beyonce concert or if you go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show or if you attend a summer camp, you know that there are clear ways that people behave and don’t behave. At most summer camps, for example, the staff usually act over-the-top happy and goofy. If someone is attending camp for the first time, as a camper or a staff member, they might not instinctually see this behavior as welcoming or trustworthy or comfortable.
If you frequently go to regattas or golf tournaments, then you know what to expect. You know how to dress and what to pack and how to translate the behavior of others at those events. Every culture and subculture has hidden curriculum that is mysterious to people who aren’t familiar with it.
To make things even more complicated, each person has some of their own personal hidden curriculum. Some of us feel comfortable at a big sit-down family dinner at a table and we know how to ask for the potatoes or the chicken. Others of us feel comfortable a a big family dinner where everyone fills a plate and sits on couches and chairs and watches the game together.
Regardless of how we feel comfortable eating our meals, or whether we are familiar with golf or Beyonce, it costs each of us more effort to exist in an environment or a routine that isn’t familiar for us. When we try to diversify our schools, camps, workplaces or friend groups, the people who join us in our comfort zone won’t necessarily feel comfortable right away, because they might not understand the hidden curriculum.
The Hidden Curriculum can actually prevent people from behaving how we expect, simply because they don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to explain our subculture in a workplace or a friend-group. Most of us have very little practice talking about the hidden curriculum or even noticing what it is. When we pay closer attention to the unspoken rules in our lives, we can illuminate the hidden curriculum and do a better job explaining our standards. This can increase the diversity in our workplaces and make more people feel comfortable near us personally.
I, like many of you, have used a lot of tricks for splitting up groups.
Find a partner, one of you raise your hand, all the hand-raisers are on a team
Find everyone with the same third number in your phone number
Get into groups with people born in the same month
OLD SCHOOL TEAM CAPTAINS?! (Lots to write about here..)
What if we could have kids get into groups with the people they want to play the game with and we try our best to make that happen?
Most of the techniques at the top are designed to split up cliques and encourage campers to expand their friend groups. They are designed to push kids outside their comfort zones so they can make new friends. That’s ok, but what if that isn’t the number one goal.
At Stomping Ground, the camp I help run, we play an all-camp game every night. The night games often have teams, sometimes all the kids are on one team against some staff playing the bad guys. You can see some of our games in the Free Stuff Section of this site.
For us, the goal of the night games is threefold.
We want to create larger than life immersive events that kids will remember and talk about.
We want to end the day on an epic high note giving all of camp a shared experience.
We want to let kids encounter big ideas on their own terms.
Not everyone participants in all the games, they can opt out, but the goal is to get as many people at camp thinking in the same direction and have a wild time doing it. These games, at Stomping Ground, and at many camps, are many kids favorite part of camp.
If you noticed, for us pushing kids outside their comfort zones or getting them to make new friends during the games are not our highest priorities. This doesn’t mean we don’t hope kids will make friends, but it means we aren’t prioritizing that during these games. We prioritize that at other times.
If that is the case, that we care more about kids loving the experience than pushing making new friends, during the game, than what should we do about making teams?
Side note, if the kids are having the best time ever they tend to also love making new friends. That the making new friends part comes naturally when they are having an awesome time.
What if we just let the kids decide?
We have tried this and the hard part is they tend to make teams that aren’t very fair. I think if given enough time one of the more outspoken, probably older, kids would speak up and explain that the teams aren’t fair and that makes the game less fun, but we haven’t run that experiment.
What if we mostly let the kids decided, but we play the role of that older kid?
What we tend to do is explain the game. Then explain the number of teams and have kids clump together based on who they would like to be with. Then one of our game makers go around and send groups of kids evenly to teams. This let’s us have some control over balancing teams, and let’s kids play the game with the people they want to play with. We find when teams are mostly even and kids are with the people they want to be with the games are dramatically more fun.
Some other thoughts…
This is more art than science. As the facilitator, like always, we need to be on the lookout for kids possibily being left out or just not actively included.
We have added in recent years the option to instead of choosing your friends you can choose the color or team you want to be on. We do this by sending team captains to four corners of the area and telling kids if they want to choose the color they are on go to the color and if they don’t care please stay in the middle so we can make fair teams. We have found the younger kids tend to be more color-focused and the older kids don’t care about that, but want to make sure they are on the same team as their friends.
At the end of the day the question of how we form teams is about why are we playing the game at all? Why should adults decide? Why should kids decide? Why have teams? By pushing ourselves to answer these questions we can more effectively and intentionally accomplish what we are hoping to accomplish.
If you love thinking about this kind of thing you will love the All Camp Games Workshop we are running in February. All online.
MAKE UP A NEW GAME FOR YOURSELF. GET ACCESS TO THE REST OF THE COHORTS NEW GAMES. BUT MOST OF ALL START TO THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT GAME CREATION.
At Stomping Ground, the sleepaway camp I started with Laura Kriegel in 2015, we just hired our first year-round assistant director. Allison Klee, or Klee, has worked with us for three years. You may know her from her videos on how to help staff prepare for the summer.
Anyway, she is awesome and really gets what we do at Stomping Ground, but is still new at so many aspects of her new role. My guess is many of you are in a similar position to either Klee, a new year-round camp person, or me, helping onboard new year-round camp homies. With that in mind, I thought I would share what I shared with Klee about our staff hiring process. Maybe this will become an ongoing series, On-Boarding Klee - A New Assistant Director’s Journey.
Below is an email I sent to Klee, edited a little for context and some fun photos added.
It’s already staff hiring season. We have had a couple new folks apply already. Through this - Apply to Stomping Ground.
Let’s talk process.
Staff apply through the website and give us a few pieces of simple information so we can get started.
Then, I will reach out to them to set up an initial conversation.
Most of our applicants tend to be solid so I will connect them with you to have a conversation. I will share my notes with you.
You will talk with them.
You check their references.
Then we decide what to do next. We either offer them the job or have Laura talk with them to learn more.
Then we send them this page on the website to make sure they really want the job.
Interviewing is hard. Some people say interviews don’t work at all. So what is the point? At the highest level it is to see if they will do well in the job they are applying for. OK! That is a start. What is the job they are applying for? Let’s talk cabin counselors at Stomping Ground. What if we broke down being a counselor into 5 major categories?
JISE XT (We need a better acronym)
Judgment (Understand and align with the mission, vision, and practical nature of camp)
Initiative (Ability to consistently start)
Supervision (Awareness of assigned areas and campers)
Engagement (Emotional involvement or commitment)
X-Factor (What makes them special?)
Team (How do they make others better?)
Engagement, X Factor, Initiative, Team, Supervision/Judgment
You can use this for notes or make your own.
Some Questions to Get Started
Tell me about a time when you had to make a hard decision.
What are you hoping to get out of this summer?
How did you decide what to do as you after high school? Walk me through your thinking.
Tell me about a time you were with kids and had to be the “grownup”
When you are with a group of friends what role do you find yourself playing?
Tell me about a time where you played that role
I noticed on your resume that you… tell me about how you got started with that.
Tell me about a time you made a one on one relationship recently.
Tell me about your ideal day
Tell me about a challenge you have overcome
Brag about cool stuff you have done. Pretend I am your new best friend
What are some cool hobbies/skills/talents you have?
This is a weird idea or maybe just a weird phrase to use.
Something obvious: the best counselors are the counselors that know what they are doing. The earlier we can help them know what they are opting into the higher the probability of success. One way to do that is to retain staff. Another is to grow staff from the camper base. The hardest, and one we have to do a lot at Stomping Ground, is getting new staff up to speed as quickly as possible. This starts in the interview process.
I will talk with everyone that applies about the hours, the workload, the lack of self-care time, etc. The goal isn’t to scare them away but try to give them as accurate a picture of the job as possible so that they can make an informed decision about whether the job is right for them.
I don’t have statistics, but anecdotally it seems that when we can really get people to understand this the mental health of staff have been much higher and performance much better. The You’re Hired Page has helped a lot with this. Along with the Don’t Take This Job If Video.
Ok so I think you have a pretty good understanding of what we are thinking about for the process. Below are a couple of links to some resources that I think will better set you up to actually do the interview. TAKE A LOOK!
A Short Video on Interviewing Camp Counselors
Laura Kriegel, Scott Arizala, and I made a video about interviewing a few years ago. I think the key takeaway is to ask follow up questions that give more insight into what we are looking for and ask questions that lead to stories of real-life not hypotheticals.
Gary Forester and POWER Hiring
Gary was the number one camp consultant for a long time. He grew up in the Y, eventually was the go-to Y camp guy, then became a consultant for all camps. He is sort of retired now, but his writings are still some of the best and most influential in the camp world. Check out his advice for interviewing here.
Actually trying to read everything on Gary’s old school website is definitely worth doing. The design is out of date and some of his thoughts seem dated, but 98% of what he is talking about is still incredibly relevant.
Let’s do this!
I hope this was useful! Kurtz and I get together with camp pros every week to talk about what is working, what isn’t, and how we can help each other. It is the best deal in professional development on the planet. $699 for 8 weeks of real time online discussion and a 3 day retreat. Check it out. The Summer Camp Society Semester.
Our staff will inevitably have conflicts with each other. Without training, our staff members tend to ignore these issues or rely on a leadership team member to fix the issues for them. This training module will teach staff how to respectfully and effectively approach each other when they have an issue.
By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon
Ten years ago(!) I became an assistant director at our camp, moving out of the cabin and into the "lodge," which at our camp means I was officially on admin and no longer with campers of my own. Although it was thrilling to start to plan and run parts of camp, many parts of the transition were a huge surprise to me.
So, at the end of the summer, I wrote a letter to the next person in my position. In it, I explained the top ten things that you need to know when moving out of a cabin and into the lodge. I recently came across this wise guide, so I've adapted it here for all of you camp leaders who are transitioning to the next level of camp leadership in the upcoming weeks.
10. Staff members will expect you to know everything.
But don't worry! You will soon gather a second sense for camp policy, procedure and where things are located (Oh, the purple rope with pink stitching? Bottom shelf in utility room).
9. Staff members will ask you for permission to do things...
...like use excessive tinfoil for a costume, go pick up a prescription, etc. It is mostly in your power to give them the go-ahead or not. That’s OK…get used to it! And, you don’t always have to say yes.
8. In the beginning, you will feel like you are always asking your supervisor 1 million questions.
You probably are…but you’ll figure it all out soon enough. Asking is part of learning. It's also good role modeling--you want your staff to ask you when they have questions, too!
7. You do not have traditional "rest time."
During normal camp “down time,” counselors tend to come to you with questions or problems and you will be dealing with camper/programming issues. “Rest” hour is no longer that restful, and neither is regular time off. Make sure you take personal time when you have the chance, even if it is during an unconventional hour of the day.
6. You see the worst things about camp.
You will soon learn about/witness/be involved with the aftermath of every disaster or mishap or near-crisis. Try not to get a skewed perspective…most of the time, and probably all of the time, camp is going pretty well. When you look around, don’t forget to look for the positive.
5. You will be privy to a lot of special/private information.
Sometimes, you just have to know this stuff so you can do your job! The key to confidentiality is only sharing information with people who can help. Don't get pressured into sharing private information, no matter how persuasive the gossipers are. Oh! And document everything!
4. Your relationships with staff members will change.
Your camp friendships are now a bit different. You have to work hard at maintaining those relationships and building non-work connections with staff members. You’re still a camp leader, on camp and off. It’s a privilege but it comes with extra pressure. No matter how approachable you are, you're still a little "scary" to many staff. Your words carry extra weight, so be careful with sarcasm.
3. It’s easy to get stuck inside all day.
You have to make an effort to get out of the office and around camp. Make sure you are out there! If you are working on a project like paperwork, put it on a clipboard and do it outside where you can see and be seen. Wear a pedometer so you can track your daily steps. Make getting out and about one of your priorities!
2. You don’t have a cabin of kids anymore.
You have to work at making sure you still have kid time so you don’t get sad or go crazy. Become a character during evening activity; make rounds at lights-out to say goodnight to cabins; jump in the lake at free swim. This keeps you motivated and is excellent role modeling for your staff team.
1. you don’t have your own campers…but the counselors become your “kids.”
It’s like you have a cabin of 50 college students (Awesome!? But crazy!). One of your biggest priorities is to be there for the counselors and to make sure they are supported, positive, and fulfilled with their work. If you’re able to do this, they can give the kids the best experience possible—which is the ultimate goal.
Join us for more.
We're now accepting applications for the fall semester of The Summer Camp Society, our innovative learning program for camp professionals. Learn more and apply today through this link.
Sarah Kurtz McKinnon (left) is a camp director, consultant and trainer. She's also one of the co-founders and co-facilitators of The Summer Camp Society! Reach her at email@example.com.
The camp counselor said, “We respect our director because we know she respects us.”
That’s the goal, isn’t it? Respecting our staff might not be hard to do. But where camp leaders often stumble is figuring out how to get their staff to recognize that they are respected.
Jack and I believe that this process starts well before the campers arrive.
Next week is Tristate! WHAT!? Tristate is this huge camp conference in Atlantic City, weird I know, but awesome.
For Stomping Ground, the camp I help Laura run, we are bring a few seasonal staff. They started asking what it would be like. Last night, I quickly looked through the session outline to help them decide what sessions they might want to see. We don't mandate that our staff go to specific sessions, but do try to share our experience so they know what they are opting into. So, I thought I would share my list for my staff with all of you.
Who are these people?
Below is a quick synopsis of 9 speakers and their presentation times that I would love to be able to see. It is mostly designed to send to my staff as they start thinking about the conference, but I thought it might be useful for other folks as well.
This list is far from exhaustive. There are dozens of great speakers at Tristate every year, and I always come away with a new must-see presenter. Last year it was Cole Perry, more on him below. Quick disclosure: I have worked with almost everyone on this list starting Stomping Ground, facilitating Directors' Camp, running Go Camp Pro, or building The Summer Camp Society. I love these people and that makes me biased.
Some Advice I heard
The best advice I heard about Tristate (and any conference) is find great sessions, talk to as many people as possible, and leave my ego at the door. I think Stomping Ground is a great camp, but the best thing we can do is learn from other camps, spend more time listening than talking, and try to be helpful when we can.
I don't have much experience in other industries so this might be hyperbole, but...The summer camp industry is unique and camp people are the best. Tristate is an example of that in action and one of the best sharing opportunities of my year. I can't wait to see you there!
Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon
Kurtz is the single best creator of staff bonding, connecting, and growth activities I have ever seen. Her magic is that her activities and examples work with 5 year olds to 80 year olds because they are never condescending. She brings years of camp directing experience (6 as the exec at Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian) and an MBA from the University of Michigan paired with a millennial mindset that connects with staff today. She is forward looking, mindful, and compassionate.
What you will see? Current, activities, experience, compassion
Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented
Wed., March 21st, 2-3 p.m., Room 304, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Avoiding the Parent Trap: Working with Difficult Parents
Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Transitioning from Coworker to Supervisor: Success as a Young Camp Leader
Thurs., March 22nd, 10:15-11:15 a.m. Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Using Microstorytelling to Market Camp
Steve is the best in the business at simple takeaways, bringing incredible energy, and firing you up. He cares deeply about the success of your program, the power of camp, and the impact individuals can have in a summer at camp. He is a school teacher, a former CIT director, and bad ass song leader. He is especially great at helping new staff really get camp. One of the best parts about seeing Steve speak is he is like a cup of coffee in the middle of the conference. You can’t help be leave fired up afterward.
What you will see? Teacher, energy, passion, specific takeaways.
Tues., March 20th 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 302, Stephen Maguire, Little Things are Big Things: 10 Specific Ways to Improve your Entire Camp
Wed., March 21st 3:15-4:15 p.m, Room 302, Stephen Maguire, 5 Ways to Improve Your Staff's Patience at Camp
Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 312, Stephen Maguire, Weathering Camp: 15 Ways for How to Prepare Your Camp for the Best and the Worst Weather
Sylvia van Meerten
Syl is a straightforward, no BS, let’s make it work kind of person. Her sessions are always full of specific takeaways and a to-the-point candidness that I think is often missing from the camp world. She is licensed therapist, autism expert, and the other half of the Camp Tall Tree founding team with Scott Arizala. She has worked at half a dozen camps and was the Executive Director of Dragonfly Forest for years.
What you will see? Clear takeaways, no BS, mental health, autism expert
Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 320, Sylvia van Meerten, Neurodiversity, Inclusion, and the Hidden Curriculum at Camp
Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented
Dr. Chris Thurber
Chris ties everything back to academia. He is surprisingly hilarious in a professorial kind of way that I can’t pull off. A graduate of Harvard and school psychologist at a prestigious boarding school, he really gets the high-powered families that choose many of our camps. He has spent the last 30- something summers at YMCA Camp Belknap in New Hampshire and is especially great with a staff looking for more research to back up actions.
What you will see? Expertise, academics, mental health
Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, Cross-Cultural Agility in Action
Wed., March 21st 12:30-1:30 p.m. Room 415, Dr. Chris Thurber, Woodworking with Hand Tools
Wed., March 21st, 3:15-4:15 p.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, XXX-Posed: Youth Development in the 21st Century
Thurs., March 22nd 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 312, Dr. Chris Thurber, Shockingly Professional Talk: Smooth Responses to Sensitive Topics
Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton
Beth and Ruby host the podcast Camp Code with Gab Raill. They are strong advocates for women in camping and typically focus on specific staff training sessions or additions that you can do with your staff. Beth is a long time director of Cairn Camps in Canada and Ruby at Green River Preserve in North Carolina.
What you will see? Takeaways, community building, focus on relationships
Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 404, Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Three Innovative Training Modules to Plug into Your Staff Training Right Now
Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 417, Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Management 101 for Staff Who Are Supervising Others For the First Time
Travis is a nerd. That’s why we get along. He is constantly searching for new hacks and tricks to make running camp easier and typically pushes folks toward more storytelling in marketing and finding new ways to provide value to families. Travis was the long time camp director at Cairn Camps, a Presbyterian camp in Ontario. He grew up on a farm, is a professional photographer, and probably camp's leading podcaster with is CampHacker podcast.
What you will see? Marketing, technology, experience, Canadian
Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 309, Travis Allison, How To Get Dirt-Cheap, High Quality Responses From Email Marketing
Cole dramatically less “camp famous” than the other speakers on this list, and has a very different niche. Cole worked at YMCA Camp Ernst for a long time and has been studying race at camp for the last few years. He is earnest and thoughtful is his presentations and always leaves me thinking differently and questioning our policies. Definitely worth seeing.
What you will see? Typically group discussion, race at camp, no easy answers, academic
Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 401, Cole Perry, Antiracism at Camp: Speaking Up and Acting Out
Dr. Deborah Gilboa
Dr. G is a physician, mom, and is on a mission to help grownups realize how powerful kids are. She, like Dr. Thurber, will connect humor to scientific studies and her experience working with different families. Her three boys go to camp, and she is a camp doc during the summer. She has spoken on all kinds of national and local TV and is certainly the most famous speaker outside of the camp world.
What you will see? Humor, science, confidence, charm
Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 301, Deborah Gilboa, Managing Anxiety at Camp
Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 312, Deborah Gilboa, Staff Self-Care - How to Teach It AND How to Practice It
Scott is a born storyteller. He keeps you hanging on every word and can connect with anyone. He has an incredible knack for relating to the audience. It’s really like your best friend is up there. Scott was the long time director of Dragonfly Forest, a camp for kids with special health needs, the founder of Camp Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism, as well as a lifelong camper, staff, and now camper parent at YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian. He brings that connection to different types of people to every training he does.
What you will see? Relatability, special needs, storytelling.
Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 302, Scott Arizala, Silence, Whispering, Writing, and More: Lessons from Our Quieter Staff
Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Scott Arizala, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, and Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development, and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented
Wed., March 21st, 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 303 ,Scott Arizala, Training for the Middle: What Do We Really Want from Summer Camp Staff?
Understanding the Business
Some other people I like to sit in on because they run very successful camps and are often involved in the larger discussion of summer camp at the national level. These guys get business and no matter how we slice it, summer camp is a business.
Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 301, Andy Pritikin, Free Play at Day Camp- Important and Possible!
Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 303, Jay Jacobs, Building a Winning Camp Leadership Team
Wed., March 21st, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Room 401, Andy Pritikin, Day Camp Communication 2018, a Roundtable Discussion → Note: I don’t run a day camp, but am going to try to make this one anyway. I love stealing Andy’s ideas, especially around parent communication.
Wed., March 21st 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 417, Scott Brody, ACA's Public Policy/Government Affairs Update!
Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m. Room 304, Steve Baskin, Using Disruptive Moments to Transform Campers Narratives
Seasonal Leadership Seminar
Set your leadership team up for success this summer
4 Weeks $75 until April 1st
This is how my brain works…
The best way to become a camp director, or really get any job, is to know the person making the hiring decision. The next best is to have an incredible recommendation from someone the person making the hiring decision trusts. This all only works if you are awesome/qualified at what you want to do. If the person hiring knows you and thinks you suck… That’s no good. More on this thesis here. How to become a camp director.
So now we have a new problem, how do we build relationships with people who might be hiring or people that the people hiring trust? Become a badass videographer. Hear me out.
Video is King
Video is king is the hottest buzz in marketing. Some articles below.
So if you are a badass (read probably only have to be mediocre) video creator you can help anyone that wants to sell anything without spending much money. Really you just need to use your time.
If you can help people that need to sell things we have a new ven diagram. People that want to sell things and people hiring deciders (I am the decider) trust. Who is in that circle? Other camp directors, camp consultants, other youth development professionals… If you know a specific decider you could make a more specific list.
He is what I would do after making a few, even mediocre, videos. Find the closest relatively popular camp consultant. I listed a few below, but there are plenty more.
Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon - MI
Steve Maguire - MA
Dr. Chris Thurber - MA
Travis Allison - ON, CA
Beth Allison - ON, CA
Scott Arizala - MI
Send an Email
Send them an email, be honest, saying something like…
“Subject: You Inspire Me. I’m Future Camp Director.
I am a college student and I love camp. What you do inspires me and I would to find a way to thank you. I am also a videographer, here is one of my videos. I would love to come to your next event or even just meet up at a park/camp/school and make a video for you. For free of course.
Anyway! Thank you again, please let me know if that is something I could do for you. OH! And just so you don’t think I am a creep or something. I worked at Camp Stomping Ground last summer. You can email or call the director there to make sure I am a reasonable person.
Jack Schott - firstname.lastname@example.org
All those people above are great, generous, kind people that would probably take you up on this offer. One, because it would help them, but even more because they would want to help you.
Now Make The Video
Then make a great video for them. After, do it again for three or four more people. AND! If you do it for someone like Steve, he is super tight with Scott, Chris, and Kurtz so my guess is he would help you connect with the next person.
Now, you have three-five videos make for some of the most influential consultants in camp. When you apply for your next job ask them to send a quick email to the person doing the hiring explaining their work with you.
I have never seen anyone do anything like this in the camp industry and it wouldn’t work for every camp job, but my bet is this would land you a job over the next twelve months. If you are good. If you are qualified and have some track record as a seasonal staff leader.
**** Kurtz and I are dreaming up a month long seasonal leaders training aimed at helping middle managers, unit leaders, assistant directors, division heads, and more be the most effective this summer. If you would be interested in learning more as that comes together check this out and fill out the super quick form. *****
--> Seasonal Leadership Program <--
A Note from Jack
I run a sleepaway camp called Stomping Ground. We try stuff. One time we had no bed times. That didn’t work. (I should write about that later)
My favorite part of The Summer Camp Society is the sharing of ideas. I love getting to hear about the ideas that folks have tried, what has worked, and hasn’t. Every camp is different, but we all have so much in common. Why reinvent the wheel?
Camping Coast to Coast
Before The Summer Camp Society, Laura, the other director and founder at Stomping Ground, and I traveled the country for two and half years visiting about 200 camps and 47 states looking for and sharing great ideas. That was awesome, but now that we run camp it’s hard to keep up that lifestyle…
You can see more about that journey at Camping Coast to Coast.
Ideas for 2018 Doc
Each week when we meet for The Summer Camp Society I keep a document open, Ideas for 2018, and I add new ideas from other folks or new ideas that are sparked from conversation. Most participants do something similar. I love it. Not all these ideas are going to work and a some of them I won’t get a chance to implement this year, but if just a couple of them turn into hits than I will feel great about it.
As we developed the program we started something called “Somebody’s Something”. The idea is similar to a Mastermind Group or Consultative Problem Solving. One person is on the hotseat. They explain a problem, project, or idea they have, and we all try to help. It’s an awesome exercise both for the person getting specific advice and for all the rest of us thinking about similar problems we might have. I can’t wait to get back into Somebody’s Something groups. I have never been on the hotseat and the takeaways have still been out of this world.
Over the next few weeks I am going to try to write up a bunch of the ideas we are hoping to try. This one is all about staff ideas. Next fall I’ll try to give you the feedback on how they went. We are calling it Try Things Camp. As a camp community we have so much to learn from each other. I hope some of these ideas resonate with you and maybe inspire you to find a community to share ideas with.
5 STAFF IDEAS 2018
1) Pre-season Zoom Groups
Kurtz inspired this one. We hire a lot of new staff and, like most of you, spend a ton of time during staff orientation on teambuilding and skills development to help our team be as prepared as possible for the summer. We also have extensive interviews and pre summer conversations between Laura and I and all the staff. Last year we had a seasonal leadership team member call each new staff and welcome them to camp, and it was pretty good. This year we are doubling down on welcoming staff early and often.
We are paying one of our seasonal leadership staff members, Klee, to develop a preseason welcoming plan. Klee is dividing all the staff up into groups of about 8 that will have meetings on Zoom each month starting in April. Your Zoom group, lead by a seasonal leadership staff member, will stay the same throughout the preseason and into staff orientation. We already have groups about that size that meet each night during staff orientation so these Zoom groups will continue through that. Maybe we will do meet ups each week in the summer.
The hope is that, by starting to build small communities before getting to camp, new folks can get more comfortable more quickly with our larger community and have a chance to ask questions, make jokes, and be more of themselves when they arrive. Klee is developing a curriculum for the preseason meetings, but mostly it will be simple conversations and get to know you activities.
2) Internal Grants
Kurtz shared this idea from her time at Ann Arbor YMCA. The idea is super simple. What if we put aside a specific amount of our programming budget for the staff to use? Let’s say we had $1000. Any staff could put together a quick proposal and get access to some of that money to improve camp. It could be starting an outdoor cooking program, putting twinkle lights up in the shower house, or a million other ideas we haven’t thought of yet.
In the past, we have just encouraged folks to let us know when they need things or have an idea, but what I love about this program is it gives less vocal staff a specific way to make lasting impact at camp.
3) Counselor Roles Breakdown
I wrote about this in the summer camp pros group on FB. The bones of this idea I dreamed up with Carlie, from the Takodah YMCA. We were talking about training staff to work in adventure playgrounds and other camper driven play spaces, during a one on one. This got me thinking, how we can better support our staff through their different roles as camp counselors? Almost no one task of being a camp counselor is super difficult, but the hard part, the real art, is knowing how to mix between a leader, a follower, and the many other facets of our work at camp. We wrote up this quick synopsis of 7 Roles of a Camp Counselor as an intro. My guess is we will use these terms this summer and simplify this as the summer goes on.
The hope is that by codifying the different roles we can better support staff if they are struggling to help kids through tough times, lead activities, remember to help kids find their toothbrushes. Instead of looking at each one of those as separate issues thinking “What role of counseling aren’t you quite getting if you can’t remember the toothbrush? And how can we help you in that space?” That would be being a caretaker and it probably means we can get better at a number of other aspects of caretaking as well.
Staff Orientation Session
On top of this, it gives us some simple brainstorming or skits to create during staff orientation. I can imagine breaking our staff up into the 7 groups and asking them to think through scenarios at camp where each role is applicable. Then, what can go wrong if we neglect different roles or use different roles in the wrong situations. Maybe each group dreams up scenarios and writes them on index cards. Then groups pulls a card with the scenario, and they suggest what roles might be the most effective in that scenario. Maybe! Level two is pulling a scenario card and a role card, then acting out what/how that role would look in the scenario. It could be really silly and lead to some great debrief discussions.
4) You’re Hired!
I thought of this one week as Luke, from Beacon Bible Camp, was explaining his process for bringing volunteers to camp. I know at least YMCA Camp Seymour and Camp Augusta have their own versions of this, but we never did. In a further attempt to help welcome new staff into our community, we built a very simple page on our website to help them see a little more about what they are opting into. It includes a video encouraging them “Don’t take this if…”, a video from staff orientation, and some articles to read about our take on working with kids at camp. Now, we send to it all staff after we offer them a job and before they accept.
5) Make My Day Book
This one I learned from Jason Smith at YMCA Camp Kitaki. Often, at camp, people have rough days and other folks want to help or I just want to say thank you in a meaningful way, but we don’t totally know how. At Kitaki, they have their staff all fill out a quick one page questionnaire during staff orientation asking how someone could make their day. Then they put a copy of all those pages in a binder where all the staff can access them. Now, when you want to thank someone or give them a quick pick me up, you can check the book and know exactly what they have asked for. Why guess if they would prefer chocolate or a handwritten note? It is kind of like bringing the Love Languages to life at summer camp.
Thanks for spending a few minutes deep inside my brain with me! I am excited to keep digging into different ideas and sharing. If you have cool staff ideas that you want to share I would love to read them in the comments or if you want to get together and dream up ideas with us, check out The Summer Camp Society program!
Winter Semester 2018 Application Deadline:
Friday, February 9 @ 11:59 p.m. EST
I have a ridiculous idea.
In 2015, Laura and I ran a trip for teens from camps across the country. We got in a van and visited 7 camps over 17 days in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way we visited national parks, learned a ton, and made lasting friendships. It was amazing.
Being able to see different camps in action and debrief with like minded camp folks from across the country was transformative. Each camp was uniquely different while at the same time being remarkably similar. It pushed all of us to think differently about what was possible, what made camp camp, and gave us enormorse insight into what our impact might be. We stayed up late talking about the power of camp and imagining ridiculous ideas for what we might create some day.
Ever since that trip, Laura and I have wanted to be able to offer something similar. Something that could give that wider perspective and possibility in a short period of time to passionate potential camp directors. With the growth of Stomping Ground from one week in 2015, to three in 2016, and four in 2017 we just couldn’t find the time to facilitate another trip.
Here’s my ridiculous idea…
What if we could put together a program where a group of 5-10 amazing staff (18+) traveled together visiting and working at a handful of camps. Learning from the different way things are done, working with experts and making a little money as you went. What if this cohort of passionate camp staff went on an adventure like this...
Training and Volunteering at Camp TBD (Jun 4-16)
Advanced Autism & Diversity Training w/ Sylvia van Meerten(Jun 17-20)
Training and Working at Camp Stomping Ground(Jun 21- Aug 4)
Traveling and Visiting a Couple Camps (Aug 5 - 11)
Training and Volunteering at Camp Highlight(Aug 10-19)
Volunteering at Camp Tall Tree (Back with Sylvia Aug 20-25)
*** This schedule is preliminary and will change
Plus make some money
Here’s the fun part! Because you would work a bunch of weeks at Stomping Ground, Stomping Ground could cover the cost of the program and pay you a stipend, probably about $1,000. Not a ton of money, but getting paid to travel, learn, and play with kids is pretty awesome.
This is exactly how I would have loved to spend a summer while I was in college. Instead of wondering what other camps were like, go out and see them. You will get to work with camps pushing the limits with what is possible with kids in a variety of settings, build authentic relationships with a bunch of camp directors and camp staff, and have a better understanding of what a career in camp might look like.
This program isn’t for everyone. It will be hard and requires a willingness to work hard, think creatively, and try new things. We are looking for passionate camp folks looking to make an impact, learn a ton, and push themselves and the cohort to new levels. If that sounds like you, sign up to learn more about the application process.
I am in a contemplative mood as we approach the holidays….
I don’t love our opening day at Stomping Ground and the opening campfire is a big part of that day. We have a relatively standard opening day with welcoming counselors, name tags, name games, great pizza, tours, agreements, orientation, and a campfire. The campfire is the culmination of the day. During that time most other days at camp, we play an epic game where kids battle dragons, catch dinosaurs, or something similar. But on opening day, kids mostly sit and watch or stand and sing. This article is mostly a trip inside my brain as I try to wrestle with the why and how of campfires at Stomping Ground. I hope it is informative or at least entertaining. Also, at the end I am going to try to explain/sell/convince you that The Summer Camp Society is worth looking into. It is!
At every sleepaway camp I have worked at, and most I have been to, we start each session with some form of opening campfire or ceremony. One of the most commonly spouted pieces of advice for day camp is to create that resident camp feel. A lot of times that starts with a big ceremony with camp songs and classic skits. Why? What is the magic of campfires?
When I say campfire I mean some combination of songs, stories, and skits as a big group. Often no actual fire is present. When I am talking about campfires this is what I am talking about. These gatherings, these songs, this experience.
Awesome video from Camp Tecumseh YMCA by the way. If you don’t follow them check them out. Their content marketing is some of the best in the business.
We Can’t Win on Fun
But why campfires? Why are we bothering? If like Joel says in the video above camp isn’t just about fun. That “We can’t win on fun.” What else is happening at a campfire? Maybe an even better question. What else could we do that would be better than a campfire? Also! Couldn’t we be more fun than a campfire?
I was the program director at Camp Stella Maris for the last two of the eight years I worked there. I ran an opening campfire every week, but got rid of closing campfires every other week. Kate, the program director at Stella Maris after me and the program director at Stomping Ground now, took it one step further. She got rid of opening campfires all together. Kate is a badass, but was she right? Was it better? She did this because she noticed the time when kids were the most bored and homesick at Stella Maris was during opening campfires. She added a simple evening program to the first night of camp and bailed on campfires almost all together.
At Stomping Ground, Kate runs opening campfires and closing campfires every week. Our camp has a lot more new kids than Stella Maris did. The opening campfire is mostly high energy and silly. All the villages, campers and staff, do a skit or cheer. We do a few songs and a few skits. Then we end with a little more heartfelt closing ceremony. It is a fairly standard opening campfire. The closing campfire is all low energy. It happens after a night game on the last night. Laura and I say some words and kids are given a chance to reflect on the week. We sing a song and kids head back to their villages, also fairly standard for sleepaway camps.
The closing of the campfire looks something like this Facebook Live video we did for our fundraising campaign last year. Skit ahead about 2 minutes.
What I love about opening campfire?
I know everyone hears the same message from Laura and I about the community we are creating.
New kids get to see everyone
Often the skits and songs are fun and silly which creates a shared experience for all kids to talk about. Similar to gathering around the water cooler and talking football.
These inside jokes can facilitate quick friendship making.
It has a low barrier to entry. We don’t ask much from kids. It is easy first night for mostkids.
When we sing the songs are easy so most kids sing along which is easy and gives them a sense that they can participate going forward.
It is easy to plan.
Staff love campfires.
Everyone has a chance to be on stage.
People have been gathering around fires for ever so there might just be something to that.
I struggle with about opening campfires…
There aren’t any options. It is the only evening program that there isn’t a clear alternative.
The space we sit is fairly uncomfortable which makes extended or damp sitting pretty rough.
Lots of kids don’t like to be on stage.
Lots of kids don’t really like the skits or songs.
Lots of kids don’t actually listen while Laura and I explain things.
Opening campfire is dramatically less fun and structurally different from the rest of the program we run.
Kids seem to like about campfire...
When there are really funny skits, ok mostly when Brian, one of our staff, does skits.
Mostly younger, mostly girls, tend to quite like the repeat after me songs.
Almost everyone seems to like when we sing the camp song. (Classic acoustic guitar folky type song)
Kids like to get in on repeating nonsensical jokes. Ok mostly when George, another staff, does them.
Without getting too into the details about our constraints at Stomping Ground that is a glimpse into how I like to think about different areas at camp.
Get rid of opening campfire entirely and run a night camp the first night.
Have a short night game, maybe by village, and then a short campfire.
Make sure the campfire skits are funnier.
Get benches for the campfire pit
Why The Summer Camp Society
Each week I get a chance to meet with The Summer Camp Society cohorts and dig into tons of different areas of camp, just like this. We dream big, ask why, and try to find specific takeaways for each of us. I try to keep a short list running of ideas for Stomping Ground next summer, but there are a dozen more I have already implemented that have come from conversations in our groups.
If you are looking for a community of driven, intentional, like minded young-ish camp professionals examining the why behind camp, looking for quick wins and low hanging fruit, and other folks to bounce ideas off of, I hope you will check out The Summer Camp Society. It might be the best value you can get for professional development in camping. $599 for a conference, 10 weeks of weekly discussions, ongoing chat about real topics, and most importantly an authentic community of camp pros you can call for the rest of your career.
PLUS! You get to hangout with Kurtz every week. I mean me too, but Kurtz every week. MBA, was youngest Y exec in the country at 23, filled camp, incredible facilitator, easily one of the best staff training consultants. Ok ok ok. You are done listening to me about The Summer Camp Society.
Stomping Ground Campfires 2018
Right now what I am leaning toward from campfires at Stomping Ground in 2018…
Let’s keep em!
Figure out how to drive the price of crazy creeks down so everyone could have one.
Get Brian and George on stage more.
Shorten the campfire.
Create a system where I can know for sure that kids are hearing what Laura and I have to say before campfire. We made this last year but need to do better.
Up the fun in each village before or after. Maybe snacks. Maybe village specific games. Like night games but for just the village.
Maybe just a bigger actual fire. That can change the whole experience?
More importantly… JUST ASK THE KIDS NEXT SUMMER JACK!